Welcome back to Period Dramas, a weekly column that alternates between rounding up historic homes on the market and answering questions we’ve always had about older structures.
From the measured proportions of the Beaux-Arts to the ostentatiousness of the French Chateau style, American architecture in the 19th century—especially the second half of the 19th century—drew inspiration from a variety of countries and building styles.
Few structures, though, are as imposing as those built in the Romanesque Revival style.
Romanesque architecture first came about in Europe around the 11th and 12th centuries. Now best seen throughout medieval churches in France and Germany, the style emphatically used the rounded arch, which was famously developed in ancient Rome, wherever it could, like barrel-vaulted hallways, arched doorways, and windows.
The Romanesque revival occurred about 700 years later, popular from the 1870s to about 1900, and continued the repeated use of the rounded arch. The revival also married the archway with other striking characteristics like rough, heavy stone and intricately carved woodwork. The look of these buildings—best championed by the Gilded Age architect H.H. Richardson—seemed to resemble fortresses. They conveyed heft and permanence.
While the style was popular for public buildings, many people commissioned Romanesque houses. Here are three that are currently up for grabs.
Albany, NY (11 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, $799,000)
See what we mean about Romanesque revival houses looking like castles? Built in 1892 for a wealthy inventor, the house has all of the hallmarks the style: imposing stonework, arched windows, two rounded turrets, and a large arched doorway, to name a few.
Inside, the house is surprisingly bright, even though the woodwork is characteristically heavy—and abundant. Especially striking is the stair hall with deeply carved beams running across the ceiling and a bridal staircase that leaves no surface unadorned with either paneling or otherwise intricately carved woodwork.
Also notable are all the fireplaces, which seem to be gas, a common occurrence in late-Victorian houses, as means of heating that didn’t rely on wood gained popularity. Each firebox is wrapped in opalescent tile and capped with a carved mantle. Often, carvings in Romanesque homes are incredibly detailed and seem to twist and turn onto themselves, which recalls carvings found in medieval Romanesque churches.
Chicago, IL (6 bedrooms, 8 bathrooms, $8.45 million)
This 12,600-square-foot mansion may be thoroughly renovated, but much of its 1895 charm is still intact. The house doesn’t skimp on curb appeal with its front porch (notice the semi-circular arches) and hexagonal turret. What’s also interesting is how the stone carvings describe the separation of the floors: A band of smooth stone caps the first floor, and a double band of rough stone separates the second and third floors.
Inside, the woodwork is kept to a minimum (we’re suspecting some of it was removed at one point in time), which allows for the emphasis to be placed on the very high ceilings that run throughout the first floor. The cove ceiling in the living room with the turreted nook is especially lovely.
Brooklyn, NY (5 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, $6.75 million)
Many examples of Romanesque revival architecture can be found in the brownstones of New York City. The facade of this house in Brooklyn—from the heavy stonework to the rounded windows and winding carvings—screams Romanesque revival.
As Brooklyn was developed in the early 20th century, some builders constructed spec houses in the Romanesque style. This house was likely a part of that development, since the neighboring townhouses are nearly identical to it.
Inside, the stair hall features dark wood paneling and vegetal carvings that outline both the front door and the built-in mirror. While a lot of the house has been renovated, other bits remain intact, especially in the upper floors where a hallway connecting two of the bedrooms that has its woodwork, wash basin, and stonework intact piqued our interest.